PRE-SERVICE - Summary of Events
DATES OVERVIEW AND PROMOTION
PRELIMINARY OVERVIEW - Training
Guard Duty - Saskatoon
Initial Training School (ITS) - Saskatoon
Elementary Flying Training School (EFTS) - Regina
Service Training Flying School (STFS) - Yorkton
Leave in Winnipeg
Y Depot - Halifax
ROYAL CANADIAN AIR FORCE (RCAF)
RECORD OF SERVICE REMARKS
It was another time, another world really some fifty-five years ago when I joined the RCAF September 27, 1941 to be exact according to my Record of Service. Also recorded is that I was attached to Britain's Royal Air Force but that will be explained later. Copies of my Statement of Services pages follow providing a quick overview of dates, ranks, honours and other incidentals.
It was at the one and only RCAF reunion I attended in Toronto seated next to a person who indicated that Air Force records could be sought. He provided the address and application was eventually made by letter. Some months later a big package arrived and after a brief perusal discovered that all the papers pertaining basically to performance evaluation records in the RCAF and RAF were included. More attention to these indicated that many of the pages were rather useless and after a couple of culling out sessions the record was reduced considerably.
Additionally, the remaining pages of records did provide some sequential order and the dates are useful. Air Force Career 1, black ring binder, contains these pages in sequence with a summary page before each section. Some of what is found in this story, Air Force Career 11, the complete story, is repeated so the black binder is in effect a reference book.
This project began in September, 1996, and admittedly it turned out to be a much larger task than anticipated. Still, what a labour of love! There are one or two negative aspects to re-living one's life over again, but got the most part this has been a very positive experience as was true of my other writings.
Indeed it was another time, another world, remembered always as both sad and happy times. In other writings such as "Long Ago and Far Away" and My Friendship with Reg", mention was made of a few incidents in these stories essential to relating a specific adventure of friendship in one's life.
Finally, as with other writings, the copy in my possession, the original one, will have key photographs either some within the story others in a special section. Our children will decide who gets this copy at the appropriate time. Copies of the original will be a few laser copies as well as those from the regular copy machine.Mike Spack
A further explanation concerns the attachment to the Royal AIr Force (RAF). Once Advanced Flying Unit (AFU) has been completed, pilots were then posted. Many went into RCAF Squadrons located in Yorkshire while others went elsewhere such as yours truly as mentioned later, to Flying Instructors School. This was a RAF Stations as was the next posting as an instructor. This continued with posting to an RAF Station for operations. We were of course RCAF aircrew and paid accordingly but all the social life and services including sports were operated by RAF personnel.
Also, there will be definite reliance on my diary which began January 1, 1943 and ends June 6, 1944 due to the loss of the diary that followed. This story and in my writing the stories "My Friendship with Reg" and "Long Ago and Far Away", utilized the diary considerably as well as the letters I had written to my family which my mother had kept. These letters are helpful especially after June 6 when the diary ends.
A SUMMARY OF EVENTS
World War II has been declared by Canada against the Germans on September 10, 1939 (Britain September 3) when I had just begun Grade Twelve at St. John's Technical High School which was quite an eventful year being the last, a Senior Student, and involved in many activities including too little of actual studies. Home study was never a priority except for almost last minute preparations for an exam and especially the finals in June. Up to this time schooling came easily to me for most subjects with one or two a problem, just getting by in French for instance.
The martriculation program in which most students applied was one that let to entrance to university and parents in those days had this in mind wanting their children to eventually go to university. One language other than English was required so French was it since I think it was the only one offered. At any rate, sports were uppermost in my thoughts and then there was my steady relationship with girlfriend Hazel Dale. As far as the years prior to Grade Twelve are concerned, please see the John and Mike story titled, A REMARKABLE FRIENDSHIP JOURNEY.
Even so the war was an ever-present consideration and quite a sensitive one where my mother was concerned. Though she never mentioned it as I recall, it is certain she knew that one day I could join one of the services. Meanwhile, in Grade Twelve it was football in t he fall, basketball in the winter, with track and field in the spring. Best friend John Potter (both of us in the same class) was denied this due to his doctor's recommendation - a murmur in his heart if I am correct so we, his teammates, missed his talents a great deal.
John and I chatted about joining up and I remember to this day, after receiving our final marks, his telling me that he would first take his Grade Twelve year over again at United College and then apply to the Air Force to become hopefully a pilot. This also was my plan disregarding the two failures I had in Grade Twelve namely French and Chemistry. As an aside, I never attended a Chemistry class from Easter onwards and practiced shot put instead. I broke a record in shot put but went downhill in Chemistry since I felt the teaching was suspect; just one case for indeed the teaching staff at St. John's and the Principal George Reeves were absolutely excellent.
Regardless of plans to join, I felt sincerely that the situation at home was such that it would be wise to earn some money to help mother and family. Brother Rudolph, a year younger, was no help both at home and at school, and my father was a confirmed alcoholic having lost many jobs and by this time may have been in British Columbia. Also in the family were brother Andy 13 years of age, sister Nellie 10, and Margaret the youngest was 5 years old. Mother worked but I don't know how she managed with the young family to raise on her own.
So it was "off to work we go" and from July 1940 to October '41 I was busy at three jobs, first for a short time with an automobile service station on Isobel, a Motor Coach Industries which built Greyhound buses (a rivetter helper), and then for a longer period with Francis Tire on William Avenue near where the Winnipeg City Hall is at the present time. Working with tires was not odious and the manager, Ken, became a fine friend. One exception was the task of fixing the large truck tires not having the present day tools. Some new "choice" words I did learn at the time.
Also it was football and basketball successful in many ways. John and I played for the Young Men's Hebrew Association (YMHA - Bert Warwick as Coach) and we won the city title. John had been cleared by the doctor for resuming physical activity. Next season I played with the Roamers (both Junior clubs by the way) and we won the Western Canadian Championship by playing Regina in Regina. John had joined the Air Force by this time. As for basketball I have ne recollection which team I was with other than a faint recollection of playing Senior basketball with Martin Terry later coach of the famous Canadian Championship Junior Stellers. Finally the day came when I discussed with my mother that I would like to join the Air Force and indicated that monies would be sent to her on a regular basis little though it would be in the early months.
In Air Force Career 1, the first few pages received from the Government Records Office are incidental really except for address and date as well as a covering page titled Performance Evaluation Records. A few evaluations appear in the main log book 1 but it recorded basically flying records while the second log book deals with after war flying. Also, places like Bournemouth, Little Hampton, Ansty, etc. are not included but will be mentioned in the complete story by reference to my diary and letters as will some of my off-duty experiences.
At the Motor Coach Industry I learned about relationships amongst workers. My "heavy" responsibility was to be inside the walls of a bus and hold some kind of iron contraption against the side at the exact point where the rivet was "machined" in from the other side. That person on t he other side was the more experienced specialist. Talk about noise for hours and hours and I felt as if I were in a sort of drum. Perhaps that is when my hearing difficulties began! Still, there was friendliness and the pay was acceptable as were the regular hours.
How long did this last? Don't know except that the more last job was with Francis Tire on William Avenue located just behind where now exists Winnipeg City Hall. Ken, the manager, was a fine person and so helpful to me. He enjoyed my sports activities for this was the time of playing football and basketball for Junior Clubs. This establishment was a tire shop selling and repairing and how well do I remember trying to take truck tires from the wheels of large trucks. The automobiles were no problem but these trucks had wheels that had not been taken off for ages. One used gasoline and a heavy sledge hammer and even then it was so difficult that Ken had to come to my assistance from time to time.
One interesting incident was the day high school and still friend ill Juzda having played for a professional hockey team (Toronto or New York) drove up. his request was for a whole new set of tires and he enjoyed no doubt his high school friend doing this for him. From my point of view there was a bit on envy; Bill with a car and being able to afford a car. It was a special occasion for me just to ride in any car never mind own one. Who knows? Maybe the car was not his and he was ding a favour for a friend!
Memory falters in trying to remember if my relationship with girlfriend Hazel was as strong as ever this time. What is remembered though is knowing the war was on in Europe and hat like best friend John, I would soon be joining the Air Force.
When the decision was made to apply to the RCAF sometime in the late summer August, 1941, I decided rightly or wrongly that to have a strong relationship with Hazel while I was away from home for who knows how long and perhaps not come back at all, was not fair to all concerned. As for marriage, there may have been some discussion on this between the two of us but that I do not remember. To marry prior to leaving was for me out of the question. So one evening I related all of this to Hazel and it was a sad time for both of us but for me an essential admission.
Regrets? The overseas diary started January 1, 1943, indicates clearly that I had second thoughts about having told Hazel to call it all off instead of asking her to wait for me until I came back home. Funny how things work out often even with regrets and disappointments. From sad occasions come often the very wonderful things that happen to us such as in this case my meeting marrying Kathleen Saint (nickname Liz) in Nantwich, Chestire, England, and Hazel became engaged to a fine person Howie Swan. Both couples have had their 50th anniversaries at this time of writing and are so very happily married. Most importantly, Hazel and Howie are fine friends of ours and we communicate sufficiently to keep our friendship a warm one.
As with all events or so it seems, the day for arriving at the Lindsay Building on Notre Dame near Portage came quickly for the interview as a result of applying formally for aircrew. (Interesting too is that after the was while at University, I worked for the Equitable Life Assurance Company and my office was in that same building). The date was September 26,1941 but the first day of actually being in the Air Force was the next day with the rank of AC2 standing for Aircraftman Second Class. One was given a leave of absence and as indicated this was for me from September 27 to November 19 inclusive without pay. So I knew my day of departure thankfully since waiting for a letter would have been tedious.
Note too the declaration about the name SPAK which is the surname on my birth certificate to this day not having bothered to change it for civilian life. At any rate it remained Spack for Air Force purposes. My service number was R134216 but later became J21452 which may have been not only a file number but my number during the time that I was an officer. The last few sheets in Air Force Career 1 show two medicals/interview remarks and a bit contradictory as far as the last page is concerned. In '41 the summary is fine but in '42 the remarks were such that I wondered why I was allowed to continue as aircrew. Perhaps it was because my marks in the academic part of the course were in t he top third in the class or the interviewer had a really bad day. Well, "You can't win them all" as the saying goes!
Naturally it was an exciting time for me to know finally my date of departure but not so exciting for the family and especially my mother. Rudy, a year younger, was having problems on his own, while Andy was 14, Nellie 11, and Margaret 6 not realizing what all this meant no doubt. I think we lived on 18 Sutherland at the time but did move to 134 Disraeli before or soon after I left on November 20.
Not remembered at all is where father was it was only a couple of years previous with his alcoholism, out of a job, and with our being on welfare. Mind you, mother never did let grass grow under her feet and she was ever on the lookout for work which often she found. She was an excellent cook and an extremely reliable efficient worker. The few places I Know of her working was the Air Force Station in St. James, Windsor Hotel downtown (after the war), and post-war in City Auditorium where she met Perry and later was married to him.
Mentioned earlier was that this was the fall when I played for the Roamers football team, a Junior group of guys who won the City Championship and then went on to Regina to be victorious in winning the Western Canada Cup though this as rather a limited victory since Alberta and British Columbia did not challenge. The Taylor Field in Regina was quite a place for rabid fans. It had been raining and as soon as we reached the field (used to this day for the professional football team) some fans started to throw mud at us. In my sports career story there will be a picture of a little guy making a touchdown in the mud. I think I was the quarterback at the time and needed the one yard only for a score and a win I believe. The little guy you won't see but a printed caption points to where I was under a pile of bodies. By the way, by this time John was in t he Air Force and we were communicating.
The days passed quickly and soon it was time for good byes for now since it was realized there would be leaves at some point in time and an opportunity to see the family. Mind you Edmonton Manning Pool was not just around the corner, and we did not have a telephone. Letters however, allowed us to keep in touch. These letters were not kept as were the overseas ones written to my family.
Since "Manning" in my dictionary is not found, the only definition I can suggest at was a place where they tried to make a man out of me as well as thousands of others especially the change from civilian life to the service.
It was November 20th, 1941, the day of departure from the Canadian Pacific Railway Stations located not far from where we lived - indeed walking distance. May of us, as young lads from north Point Douglas in Winnipeg, passed through CPR rotunda as a short cut on the way to the movies. My family and I with t he exception of Rudy and father who were I think in British Columbia by this time, joined many others at the railway station, new recruits, their families and friends.
Naturally this 19 year old was excited not having travelled very often except to a farm in Elm Creek outside the city. The destination was Edmonton, No. 3 "M" Depot. At the railway station I spotted someone I had met briefly, had watched and admired him play basketball, Walter Zeaton from Stella Mission. He had sidled up to Hennie (Henry) Lee from Selkirk. We were introduced or I may have just walked over and myself and we became instant friends especially with Wally for many years after the war.
Then there was sadness as the "goodbye" time finally came and we were shunted down the stairs to the trains. I remember my dear mother as written previously in another story. I can visualize even now her sad face as I boarded the train. Presently, as a father and a grandfather, I know well the thoughts that had been running through her mind. Our family circumstances, as with many others in our neighborhood, were not of the best to be sure but in mother we had the tenacity of character, that determination to make the best of any situation. I determined to write often and did so and to this day I have all the overseas letters I wrote home or almost all. My mother saved them and gave them to Liz years later.
One other point of interest is that November 20, my departure date, is my wife Kath's (Liz) birthday - perhaps a fine omen for the beginning of Air Force life. More about Manning Pool in the story.
The two pages in Career Book 1 that follow this section include fingerprinting taken November 22nd. One wondered at the time what kind of jail we were to enter! Also, it is a wonder that I was admitted into the Air Force when I read again what was written about me dated April 6, 1944 in Career Book 1 on behalf of the President and Findings of Board namely: "Immature, vague, not highly intelligent, infavourable family history. Father is dipsomaniac and has deserted the family. Candidate has drifted from one job to another. He has no final goal: thinks he might like to be a school teacher. Fairly good at school and sports. Likes the Service. Borderline average. Composed not tense". Then the grade was 2 plus with a 3 written over the 2 (probably out of 5). Oh well, can't win them all! By the way, I looked up dipsomaniac in the dictionary. it means one who has a craving for alcohol which was true of my father.
Jail indeed! Well, not really but what a difference to the citizen-living we were used to at home. Marching in threes and in step, getting our "duds", those heavy material pants and battle dress vest and the great coat which for a little guy like me was pretty heavy. Still these were warm even though the pants were a little itchy. To tell the truth I do not know if "long johns" were issued but perhaps they were what with winter at hand. So there we were after that long train ride from Winnipeg to Edmonton to the site of Clark Field where later the Edmonton Eskimo professional football team would play and indeed did play prior to the war. All dressed the same, look alike, mannequins, subject to a definite set of rules, each ranked as Aircraft man 2nd Class (AC2) with many superiors ranking higher and a few with very sharp tongues.
Even so, in looking back, the training was excellent preparing us for obeying orders and later to understand this when having to give orders even though infrequently as pilots. At this point and time at the age of 19, the new routines were not a problem. Remembered not, come to think of it, was whether or not I had started to shave. Smoking and drinking alcohol of any kind was taboo for me. The beds had to be made up in a particular way and there were inspections of the hut where we slept some 30 or 40 of us. Most of us learned quickly how to fold up our pants at bedtime and place them carefully under the mattress. A great way to keep a sharp crease in our trousers! We were one of many many flights of males, more of us boys trying to become adults and each flight housed in one hut.
An interesting incident occurred soon after arrival instigating perhaps pretty regularly by a few "sharpies". A couple of the more experienced Manning Pool airmen came in one day and were selling tickets, 10 cents each, for a raffle. No mention was made what the winner would get. These two must have sold many tickets to newcomers including yours truly. We found out later that the prize was a lighter not costing too much obviously so this was a great way to reap a nice profit. An amusing incident was lining up for short-arm inspection (checking for hernia and whatever) as well as arm "shots" the needle. Hennie was one of a few that fainted away before the shot was given. Amusing to us but not to him!
As an aside, in chatting recently with fine friend Tom Bryan who had been also in the aircrew, we were paid $39 a month as bottom ranked AC2's. Mind you, the board and room as well as clothes were taken care of so with attention to the market value then and now, one estimates that $39 was perhaps around $550 plus room and board. I sent home $15 or $20 so the rest was for recreation purposes. A raise in pay came with rank but I do not have the figures at the present time.
There was no waste of time for soon we were practising how to march in line, arms swinging, according to directions of the booming raspy voice of a Sergeant. This went on for days and the first week was tough as one would expect. What a way to learn to fly an airplane was ever in the thoughts of many of us. Then our flight learned that we were chosen to "show our stuff" to some high ranking dignitary who would inspect us. Who knows why our flight was chosen but there it is.
The surprise to me anyway, was that each of us would be issued a rifle and would have to march with this and learn how to "present arms" which required the maneuvering of the rifle in a particular way. A nice challenge? An honor? Well, perhaps so for some of us but little "me", five foot five with shoes on weighing some 123 pounds finding that though marching with arms swinging was fine, a heavy rifle for me was just asking too much. Practice we did and I ached all over again even worse than before. Let me assure you that the rifle was no friend of mine.
Was it God's will that came to my rescue? Or just an excuse when I caught the flu, went on sick parade, and missed later practices. The great day when the flight paraded before the high-ranking officer. Naturally comrades in the flight lent their voices to my so-called, according to them, predicament, and many of these statements were not exactly complimentary.
A bus though was the gymnasium so Wally and I soon after arrival found out where it was, checked the equipment room, and each began to shoot baskets. I did not know at that first outing of Wally's extensive experience as a basketball player from Stella Mission playing in t he Sunday School Basketball League. In the mid-thirties he was called up from Senior B competition to join the Robertson Memorial Senior A team which won the provincial title and then after defeating Saskatchewan and Alberta lost to Vancouver for the Western Canadian Championship. In one Sunday School contest at the YMCA, he scored 67 points which no doubt was a record at the time and possibly a record today for Manitoba.
My story "Wally - Basketball Wizard" has been written for his wife Ruth using his scrapbook as research material. Indeed he is easily the finest ball handler in basketball I have come across and we matched up nicely with excellent fellow basketballers. Some newspaper write ups and pictures are included later in these pages. Wally was about 6 or 7 years older than me and we parted in our training after Saskatoon. After the war I visited Ruth and Walter in Toronto a few times and we communicate often. Unfortunately he passed away soon after retirement at the age of 65 or 66.
Back to Manning Pool, Edmonton, Wally and I did play for the Station basketball Senior team and it was quite an adequate team especially with an excellent over six foot player from Vancouver. I remember little of the games we played since ot was not long after the New Year that we were posted on guard duty to Saskatoon. One game stands out though and that was against a team coached by the famous Percy Paige. Famous because he coached the Senior Ladies Edmonton Grads many years previous. This team was considered one of the best in the world at the time with a North American record for winning consecutive games. Perhaps more information may be found and included as an appendix to this writing.
Basketball was a wonderful activity in Manning Pool, Guard Duty, and Initial Training School (ITS) since it was my favorite sport continuing to be so to the present time. Social life was minimized due to this although I remember continuing to be so to the present time. Social life was minimized due to this although I remember my one and only date in Edmonton, a first while in the Air Force. We went to a movie, as I recall, and I was as nervous as a kitten for some reason or other. Words spoken were at a minimum and in returning home it seemed to be a relief to be over that experience. Social graces with the opposite sex was certainly not on the curriculum for Manning Pool training.
DATES OVERVIEW AND PROMOTION
Change of rank helps a bit date-wise since as an AC2 I was in Manning Pool, Edmonton, from November 20, 1941 (although accepted into the RCAF September 21, 1941) and remained there for only one month and 20 days (January 31, 1942) as indicated at the back of my Log Book 1 which recorded flying hours. Then it was guard duty in Saskatoon #4 SFTS from February 1, 1942 to March 15, 1942 (one month 13 days) followed by ITS from the 16th to June 6, 1942 a total of two months and 21 days.
A promotion to the Leading Aircraftman (LAC) came May 8, 1942. Interesting indeed are some dates. I left for Manning Pool November 20th which is the date of Kath's birthday. I remained in ITS training until June 6, 1942 which later in '44 was D-Day Overlord, the push over to France over the English Channel, and finally just prior to that was promoted to Leading Aircraftman (LAC) on May 8, 1942. May 8, 1945 is of course Victory in Europe (VE) Day - the end of that was with only Japan left in the conflict.
As an LAC I along with others in our flight were now permitted to wear the long-sought white wedge in our cap. Later pictures will indicate this. More importantly, this meant the beginning at last of the next phase of training still in Saskatoon, Initial Training School, which was the academic part of the full training program in Canada. No flying yet but ITS results would indicate where that would take place if it did at all. Some did not make the grade, were mustered into ground duties and many became navigators or air gunners.
So, LAC meant a little more pay to send home and to bank personally although what we were paid escapes my memory except for friend Tom Bryan remembering the pay for an AC2 was $39 a month. Mind you the dollar bought far more then than it does this day. Indeed as a guess one should multiply by around 12 to 15 for market value comparisons. One dollar would be worth today somewhere around 12 to 15 dollars.
The seven fill out the blank pages that follow this section in Career Book 1 dated 16th of March, 1942, are sort of interesting written by a rather immature guy at that time just turned 20 years of age. Note the earnings recorded for my two jobs namely $12 a month at Francis Tire and $13.90 at Motor Coach which was my first job after high school. This does not ring true and surely those wages must have been per week. My guess is that this information was used for the rather poor assessment report of yours truly mentioned earlier.
My desire to become a fighter pilot was a strong one which meant single engine aircraft training probably the noisy Harvards. Much depends upon what the needs of the Air Force were at the time and this was not known to us even in Canada or in the early months in England. Nevertheless, the training itself did provide a clue once flying instruction began.
It would appear that there may have been a surplus of aircrew applications and some form of duties had to be included after Manning Pool was completed. It was winter and the duties for guard duty were dull except that I was involved heavily with the Station Basketball team and this made all the difference. Walter Zeaton, an excellent player, was with me and we eventually won the Senior A Provincial Basketball title to lose out to Victoria Dominoes in interprovincial play.
CAREER BOOK 1 RECORDS AND SOME COMMENTS
These provide performance academically at ITS (which was back to high school really with classes at Bedford High School in Saskatoon) and in flying t last (Tiger Moths) as well as academic at Elementary Flying Training School (EFTS) in Regina and at Service Flying Training School (SFTS - flying Cessna Cranes) in Yorkton, (half the flight were Australians) which was the last phase of training in Canada. There was a reunion in Yorkton last year but I was not well and did not attend. The actual dates for posting are June 7, 1942 to June 21, 1942 in Portage la Prairie, 14 EFTS from June 22, 1942 to August 15, 1942 in Regina, (15 EFTS) and lastly in Yorkton #11 SFTS from August 16, 1942 to December 5, 1942.
STANDING IN CLASS AND COMMENTS
The flying performance at EFTS, final test, is shown and I remember it well since it was a hot summer day and the test took place at noon. The air currents up and down were fierce and handling the light aircraft, Tiger Moth, was very difficult especially the landing. It seemed I pleased the evaluator since I placed first in flying out of the 14 in our class. The SFTS standing for flying was 12th out of 49 which also pleased me but actual placement overall in SFTS, academic and flying was 20th out of 49. These results were important for these decided whether or not one received a commission.
As mentioned in the John and Mike story, I feel now how unfair the decision was as to who would be commissioned as an officer since whether one became an officer or a sergeant, he went on to the same duties; no difference. Yet the pay was better as an officer as also were accommodations. Even so, I chatted to a few aircrew who were Sergeants many of whom eventually were promoted as officers. For non-commissioned aircrew there was a special kind of togetherness at the Sergeants Mess for instance with less old style tradition and red tape which officers faced particularly when attached overseas to the English Royal Air Force.
Another record BOOK 1 shows 174 hours 25 minutes of flying with a few as passenger all in Yorkton but the logbook is more accurate: No. 15 EFTS (Tiger Moth) a total of 72 hours 35 minutes. No. 11 SFTS (Cessna Crane Twin Engine) 159 hours 55 minutes making a total of 232 hours and 30 minutes. Compare this to the first world war when pilots had perhaps 15 hours in flying and off they went on operations! Additionally, overseas, we had orientation flying on the Moth as well as Advanced Flying Unit on Oxford aircraft.
One sheet shows pay scales of Sergeants sent in error but I remember not our pay as officers at this time of writing. Still, my signature is included on this sheet so perhaps everyone received these scales towards the end of training at Yorkton. Perhaps someone made an error in making me an officer! Which brings to mind the letter I value most sent to my mother FEBRUARY 26, 1943, including the script I have now framed being an official document of my becoming an officer in the Royal Canadian Air Force, Special Reserve.
TWO EXCELLENT BOOKS
One may read with interest the details of aircrew training titled WINGS FOR VICTORY by Spencer Dunmore, "The remarkable story of the British Air Training Plan in Canada". Additionally, United College fellow student Murray Peden wrote his personal account in a book titled, A THOUSAND SHALL FALL and it is absolutely excellent. Both are in my library.
Where to now? Some personal thoughts, experiences, during Guard Duty, ITS, and EFTS come to mind:
MORE ON TRAINING INCLUDING WINGS PARADE
GUARD DUTY AND WHAT A WAY TO FIGHT A WAR!
Guard Duty in summer may have been at least reasonable even though monotonous but in the winter bundled up with heavy clothing and carting that cursed rifle was a real pain in more ways than one. This was #4 SFTS, an airfield in Saskatoon, so consider the whole area with four corners. At each corner a large drum fired up. We were the protectors of the airfield from any enemy attack. What a laugh! Of course, this was just a way of putting in time and carrying out our tasks in which we really had no interest and actually feeling more like slaves; imposed discipline which supposedly enhanced one's self-discipline.
So round and round we went for I think four hour stretches pausing at each drum to heat up the hands and whatever else such as the backside. This went on for almost a month and a half and thank goodness for basketball. Actually Saskatoon was and no doubt still is a fine city but Wally and I had little time for activities other than duty and basketball.
Our team was an excellent one and we played in the Saskatoon Senior A League. The provincial winner would then be eligible to challenge for the Dominion Championship. To be remembered is that this was a City league and not one organized by the RCAF. A few write ups are to be noted in later pages and the sports career story, still to be written, will cover this fully. For a young player as I was, 19 years old soon to be 20, and so competitive, it was an exciting time. Our team #4 SFTS, in winning the provincial title, was a first for me especially in the top-ranked category Senior A. Losing to the Victoria Dominoes, former Dominion Champions, was expected but we conducted ourselves very well. An interesting thought is that is we had won, the Western Canada Championship games would have been held in Winnipeg. That would have been great.
THOSE QUIET EVENING WALKS
It must have been the considerable time spent on basketball which influenced social life considerably. Naturally there was comradeship with fellow players and other aircrew friends. One activity I remember enjoying so very much was to take a walk preferably in the evening. It was then that I would peer from the sidewalk at lit homes with families inside and wondering how my own family was making out. Homesickness? Perhaps and naturally so. Deep inside, as the eldest son, I felt a responsibility for the future of our family. Letters were sent, something that i kept up all through my Air Force career. Wally was a great friend and I would confide with him from time to time. Letters from John came and he was not overseas as yet posted to Rivers in Manitoba but I stand corrected on this.
There were one or two visits to Winnipeg yet not too many of these since leaves at this point in time were scarce. Dances were available since the community usually had some sort of canteen. I do not remember going to these until the posting in Yorkton took place. Somehow those walks, a means to talk to "myself" became so important. Where will I be a year from now? When will the war be over? Will I be able to get my wings and be posted overseas where most of us wanted to go to where the action was taking place? This should not be taken as someone who is lonely, depressed, overly homesick, for such was not the case. The walks were rejuvenating experiences remembered well to this day. For family, it was my way of expressing my love for them even though some distance away.
INITIAL TRAINING SCHOOL (ITS)
The academic part of our course, Initial Training School, lasted for close to three months so all in all I spent just over four months in Saskatoon and really enjoyed being there. Spring and early summer found a couple of friends and I walking downtown and in the park area by the river where the impressive Bessborough Hotel was located. It is still there I think. Fine friend Wally was washed out around this time and sent to Trenton where eventually he became a physical instructor which became his life's work post-war in schools. Being "washed out" meant that an aircrew trainee, for whatever reason, was not suitable for flying whether as navigator or pilot so a few options were no doubt presented to him in Trenton, Ontario. Being washed out as happened to many was a sad experience yet often worked out well in the long run.
A tense moment was at the end of ITS when the names were posted or read out indicating whether or not one became a pilot, navigator or even an air gunner. Ask not how the decision was made for I don't know. What a wonderful feeling to see my name on the list after which was printed pilot!
AT LAST! ON THE WAY TO FLY AN AEROPLANE!
Somewhat hilarious are the experiences of the next posting which lasted 15 days. Sad also even though this posting was to #14 EFTS in Portage la Prairie remembering this was my long-awaited first flying posting. Sad because this short time meant we were to be sent somewhere else but what better place for me could there be than in Portage la Prairie about an hour from home town Winnipeg. I was in ecstasy when a group of us received our notices back in Saskatoon. To this day I remember arriving at that Portage RCAF Station by train and being told that they, the officials there, knew nothing about our group. Some kind of clerical, administrative error was what we heard. Not only that but we had to hang around for fifteen days until a decision was made for our posting. Mind you, more of us were young and Portage la Prairie is a likable town but I don't remember being able to visit home in Winnipeg.
ELEMENTARY FLYING TRAINING SCHOOL IN REGINA (EFTS)
Finally the news reached us and it was #15 EFTS in Regina. Departure day came, into the truck with our blue duffle bags containing all our possessions to be taken to the train, and then on our way. Looking back now, this new posting turned out to be excellent and at last we had visions of stepping into a Tiger Moth and flying for the first time in our lives.
Many might ask what is it about flying that a youngster finds so exciting? This is difficult to explain but even now I look in wonder at these large commercial planes as they actually lift off the ground and climb to high heights at a fast speed. And what about rockets and sending a man to the moon? Talk about mind-boggling and they say far more startling happenings are and will be taking place!
An exhilarating moment when finally, while waiting at the tarmac hut, the instructor might have said, "O.K. Spack. It's your turn now". So there I go with the parachute feeling so much bigger and heavier on my small frame, almost dragging the ground it seemed, and I climbed laboriously into the front cockpit (seat while the instructor slipped into his. We had some verbal instruction previously but there is nothing like experience. The mouthpiece was set so there could be communication with my instructor. Then engine procedure started by the instructor (one only on the Moth; also a by-plane which meant two wings one over the top of the other), and soon the propeller was turning nicely (propeller turning meant forward movement forward by the aircraft unless on the ground brakes are applied).
The machine then moved, instructor in charge of course, and we taxied into position at right angles to the runway to be used for take off. You can bet my heart was racing and excitement at a high pitch. Then came the thrill remembered so vividly. This was firstly the Moth heading down the runway picking up speed and secondly the lift off. This moment is what I remember best; this small aircraft leaving the ground. I was looking over the edge as well as I could since this was a visual covered cockpit and felt the sensation from bumpiness while on the runway to smoothness in the air. What a thrill! I was actually flying something so many of us had looked forward to, had worked to attain.
IN THE AIR
Then came details once we were leveled off and there is no need to go into this except for the one interesting request by the instructor. "Open the cockpit a bit Mike, and stick your arm out." Well, this may sound straight forward to some but for me I had visions of my arm being whipped away in the air stream. Gingerly, I slipped back the canopy of the cockpit and placed my arm out ever so slowly. There was pressure of course and son it was realized that the air so invisible on the ground with no feel to it, was vastly different when flying at around 50 or 60 miles per hour. In a way it must have been like pushing one's hand through soft butter. The greater the speed then harder the butter in the air of course. Also, very slowly, the aircraft turned to the right due to the slipstream now being disturbed on that side and greater on the other side (interesting - I am still wondering if the Tiger Moth turned left or right!)
AEROBATICS - A TEST!
After about a half hour or so with my taking the joystick which maneuvered the aircraft and trying out a few turns, the instructor took over and told me to be sure I was buckled up tightly in my harness. I knew that heights bothered me somewhat but flying up to this point produced no vertigo problem. Then came the test and I often wondered after this flight why my instructor, Nagel by name, did this. First came the loop and it was wonderful, rather gentle, and it was great to see the horizon come up as we made the complete circle with the aircraft wings still level. This was followed by the lovely stall turn going straight up and when the aircraft stopped it then turns slowly and heads down gathering speed as if on a roller coaster. So far so good. Then the steep turn right and left which one felt as pressure built up.
And then came the spin! Well, thank goodness for the "soon to be used" sickness bag in front of me which one finds also in commercial flights seats today. This is where my problem began to the point that after three or four days it looked as if I would be washed out of being a pilot. Back to the first flight, the instructor pulled back his joystick and climbed straight up. Instead of coming out gently he would as I learned later, kick the rudder sharply one way or the other. The aircraft then began to spin. I can still see ground below turning round and round and it seemed to revolve faster and faster. It was the aircraft turning but the sight and feel was that the ground below was spinning. Vertigo took over and I was sick very quickly. So from exhilaration to depressions was this first flight ever-remembered for both reasons. The instructor assured me that next time it would be much easier on me. Famous last words as they say!
CONSCIENTIOUS INSTRUCTOR CIVILIANS
The instructors were actually civilians most of whom I think were in the RCAF and had gone through this training. No doubt they joined up early in the war and the best pilots were chosen for the EFTS instruction. These are the forgotten heroes in my view. I know that many had been instructing for a long time, too long, and tried many ways to get our. One was low flying which was against regulations. We heard of the instructor who dive-bombed a boat on Wascana Lake which is within Regina boundaries and was reported. Another landed his aircraft on the highway leading up to the airport. Whether or not these misdemeanors got them back to the RCAF was not known by those in our flight but a good guess is that repeated offenses may have done so. Also, I do not know why the instructors became civilians since for SFTS instructing they remained in the RCAF.
TRAINING CONTINUES AND FRIENDS
Regina was great. My walks continued and the almost two months EFTS slipped by quickly. It was summer so we flew earlier in the day and later afternoon to avoid heat when flying was far too bumpy. Social life was mainly with ourselves and a few very fine friendships resulted since most of us had been at Edmonton and Saskatoon. In particular Frank Moffat, Davie Shewan, Jack Kennedy (all from British Columbia) I were very close and kept together for downtown outings and activities on base. Both Frank and Davie did not make it shot down on a flight over Germany while Jack was washed out and lives in Vancouver (chatted with him on our Christmas visit recently).
The long-awaited test at the end of our training finally came. Mine was late so I flew around noon hour. The flight was indeed bumpy one due to the hot day and the landing was made in conditions which seemed as if the aircraft was a cork in boiling water. At any rate I passed and indeed was flabbergasted but pleased of course that I was rated as number one of the fourteen of us in the flight. Someone was looking after me to be sure on that inspection flight. Found recently was a bracelet and printed on it, “Graduated August 14, 1942, EFTS Regina”.
Finally the posting list was on the notice board and it was to be Yorkton, Saskatchewan, the city or town much smaller place than it is today. August 15 was our departure date and we were now so much nearer time-wise to getting our wings. That is if three months and 20 days away may be considered near. So on to Yorkton, twin-engine Cessna Cranes, a light aircraft but very maneuverable and “peppy”, a pleasure to fly. The one disappointment for me was the hope to be posted on the single-engine Harvards which could mean becoming a fighter pilot. Such was not to b since the strategy overseas not understood at that time, was to supply enough bomber pilots for the massive bombing raids which were felt to be the key to winning the war.
Walter (Wally Zeaton and I as Aircraftman 2’s, the lowest in the Air Force).
We had joined the Air Force fall of 1941 leaving November 20th which coincidentally is Kath’s birthday (17 years old at the time and some years to go before I met her). I did not really know Wally prior to joining the Air Force but I knew of him due to his basketball skills. We soon became fast friends in the Air Force as noted in the writing.
This picture was taken at Kirkfield officially Oak Glade Camp Sutherland and Stella Missions Camp. This picture was taken probably while on our first leave from Edmonton or Saskatoon. Note the creases in the pants – sharp indeed. One way to keep them pressed perhaps mentioned is to lay them neatly under the mattress before bed and sleep on them!
Date of the picture then is late 1941 or early 1942..
See writing “Wally” Basketball Wizard!
YORKTON – WINGS PARADE, LEAVE, HALIFAX
It was August 16 when a group of us arrived at #11 Service Flying Training School, Yorkton, the last stop before getting our wings as fully-fledged pilots. The usual parade and assignment to a hut, etc. took place and what a pleasure it was to find that almost half of our flight of some 30 persons were from Australia. Up to this time we had in our flights the occasional American who crossed the border prior to December 1941 to get into the war. United States, to be remembered, did not enter the conflict until the horrendous attack took place at Pearl Harbour, December 7, 1941, where the Japanese sank 19 ships and there were over 2000 American casualties. Mind you, United States did assist in the war effort prior to this time with equipment and probably food as well in a sort of covert, unpublicized way.
Twin-engine single wing Cessna Crane, rather flimsy but very peppy, was great to fly and the RCAF instructors were experienced. It did not take too long to familiarize with the aeroplane for the logbook shows just over five hours before the first solo. Actually the curriculum as a whole was extensive and we were provided with thorough training in both day and night flying a total of almost 160 hours. Altogether, all flying hours EFTS and SFTS, the grand total was around 232 hours plus 35 hours on link which simulated flying on a ground machine which in itself was an interesting experience.
Yorkton was a friendly city and we did get our days off from time to time. A canteen held in a church I believe was a great place to visit with dances and something to eat. I did meet a pair of red-haired girls, twins they were, quite pretty as I recall, and dated one of them. This was strange in a way because each one could have fooled me or others whether one took the right girl on a date. An interesting scenario would be if the girls themselves planned to pretend to be the actual girlfriend but in the meanwhile switched from time to time to compare notes later on.
On another occasion, when taking an aircraft for a solo trip, who should be the one to pull the “chocks” away from the wheels but Jack Sword, a Sunday School Teacher I had at Sutherland Mission. Of course I did get in touch with him. He was in the earlier part of his training (much later I communicated with him and do so to this day – he became what is equivalent to a Vice-President, I believe, at the University of Toronto. Liz and I were invited to his 80th birthday celebration in Toronto area but we did not attend sending greetings to him and Connie his wife. A lovely couple they are and they visited us at one time in our home.
One day I mentioned to him I had a weekend leave but would not be going home for a visit not giving any explanation. That night I found under my pillow a ten-dollar bill. He never mentioned this to me at all but much later on I realized that he was the one who did this surmising rightfully that I may not have the bus fare to go home. So the visit did take place thanks to good friend Jack.
One scene vivid in my mind to this day was looking through the bars of what one might describe as a jail but in reality was the guardhouse, a fixture in every Station, and seeing my friends head for downtown Yorkton on a Saturday night. No doubt I had tears in my eyes. The records do not provide details, just a brief mention, but the experience for me remains. I do not know how long I was “behind bars” but probably not for any length of time such as 48 hours. Once again I wish I had kept a diary for all my days in the Air Force.
Why jail as I referred to it? I was made an example of so that others on the Station would fall in line. Nearly everyone broke the rules with regard to taking photographs within the perimeter of the station. Naturally I did the same and the pictures were sent to Winnipeg via Yorkton for processing. From the many hundreds and over the many months thousands of rolls of film to be processed, mine was chosen.
I was eventually charged and one might say there was a court marshal and then confined in the building with bars. Today it is quite clear to me that the officers concerned in dealing with this LAC ranked person, me, realized what had happened and just went through the motions. At this time it worried me because I had visions of losing the opportunity to earn my wings and sent for some other training. As for becoming an officer for which I had some hopes that seemed to be out of the question. Eventually the wings were presented to me and I did become a pilot officer. So all that worry was in vain as is the case in many situations in our lives. A few spoken words by a slave are interesting:
“When Ah work, Ah work hard.
When Ah’m sad, Ah sing a song.
When Ah worry. Ah go to sleep!”
Finally the three months and twenty days were over, training completed with some having been washed out no doubt, and the notice was stapled on the notice board as to those who were successful. Included were the postings mine being overseas for which I was pleased and that my promotion was to Pilot Officer. My closest friend at the time on the station was Bill Cameron from Winnipeg and he too received the same good news.
December 4, 1942, then is the official date for promotion to the Pilot Officer and a framed declaration on my “ego” wall made this official (declared by King George the Sixth). Our Wings Parade as it was called, was held in the hangar since it was winter and a proud day it was for all of us to be presented with wings which each of us pinned to our tunics after the ceremonies were over. Mother was there but I do not remember if any other member of the family attended. I know she was proud of her eldest son but finding out I was to go overseas was naturally worrisome for her. One observation is that no picture is available of the actual presentation but this may have been because of the rules at the time.
We were informed as to date of departure which was to be Christmas of all days, and given chits to buy our uniforms. I have still the tunic and it fits more or less and the officers cap which was one purchased in London, England, since I lost mine on the Queen Elizabeth when we were on the way by sea to England. So there is was! Another move, firstly the leave to Winnipeg, then the trip to England and operations. What an exciting time for this rather immature 20 year old little realizing what the future would bring!
ON LEAVE –WINNIPEG
One or two pictures of the family’s home at 134 Disraeli may be noted in the photo section, that tiny house mentioned in previous writings paced out by me as 40 feet by 16 feet. With father and Rudy away in British Columbia and yours truly in the Air Force, 134 must have been reasonably comfortable knowing my mother’s desire to have a well kept home. It was absolutely great to be home with my family. Brother Andy was 13 years old so communication with him took place often. Sisters Nellie and Margaret, three and eight years younger respectively, were a treat to see and to note the changes, which had taken place. Mother was much the same trying hard not to show any affection but I knew it was there.
The leave was for almost 20 days and though this was wonderful, there was also the knowledge that at the end of it, on Christmas Day, I would be leaving for England. For how long? Or never to return? I write “or never” but at the time that was not in my mind at all. Of course I would be back as most of us at a young age would proclaim. We know now that many did not ever come back sad to reflect.
The days were full of things to do, with family and with friends. The announcement in the paper with picture was taken care of after the purchasing by provided chits from the Air Force for our uniforms. Then of course the proud display in front of the family after which the portrait which Liz has in her bedroom. If remembered correctly this picture is one coloured by hand since colour film was not available in 1942. Bill Cameron was also from Winnipeg and we saw each other a few times and I met his mother and father. He was one of many who did not g back.
At last departure day came and it is in my more adult days that I realize the thoughts that were going through mother’s minds. I was the eldest son off to war and my brother Rudolph was not reliable and absent, with an alcoholic father who had gone off to British Columbia, leaving mother with a young son and two young sisters. Should I have decided prior to enlisting not to enlist? Then when controversial conscription came along, should I have pleaded the need for me to stay with the family as many did? There was no answer at the time nor even today at least for me.
The train was awaiting those of us from Manitoba who were posted overseas. A sad parting? For the most part it was and as written previously a scene is so vivid in my mind recalled often. This was the face of my mother when I said goodbye face to face. No tears for she did not show affection easily although no doubt there were tears when she was alone in her room. There would be many letters, no phone calls of course, some pictures, and therefore some communication. These were positives naturally as was the ability to send more money home. Also, mother was so self-sufficient by necessity and she continued working during the war and after. What an amazing person she was in the face of much adversity!
“Y” DEPOT: HALIFAX
New and familiar faces showed up as the train labored its way out of the Canadian Pacific Railway in Winnipeg gathering speed heading east for what was to most of us a faraway city called Halifax in Nova Scotia. A momentous train ride for me as were the sleeping arrangements with the green curtained bunks. We swayed on our way with what became a familiar clickety-clack of the wheels over the rails. Some faces were those from Manning Pool, Guard Duty, ITS, EFTS, or SFTS though naturally the Australians from SFTS would have been taking a different route.
Bill and I were together and he was in his element to be sure. His mother and father, as I found out in Winnipeg in meeting them and talking to Bill later, were extremely strict with him. So on his own he sort of “let loose” with often foul language and at times questionable behaviour. Even so, I identified with his many fine characteristics so we were close friends for that period of time. Unknown to many of us was the name “Y” Depot but it mattered little. We arrived, received shots in the arm, found our sleeping quarters. We saw little of Halifax, went to a New Year’s Eve dance but I remember little of this.
Then on New Year’s Day, my diary began kept up to June 6, 1944 and to which I shall refer quite often as well as to my letters sent to the family. Some repetition with other stories are inevitable though I shall try to minimize to some extent. For instance, “A Remarkable Friendship Journey” as well as “Long Ago and Far Away” includes many experiences while overseas.
100 pages of text
Recruitment and Training in Canada
Overseas Parts 1-3
Overseas Parts 4-5
Overseas Parts 6-7
Overseas 8 and Post War
Spack Family History
Looking Back At The Spacks
Contact Daughter Cathy at:
As You Were . . .
Hillman WWII Tributes
RCN HMCS PRINCE ROBERT
Ex-Air Gunners Association
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